It's hard to believe that the holiday season is coming up so soon. It's my favorite time of year; when I can stop, put work on hold and celebrate the important people in my life. As usual, I have plenty of gifts to buy for close friends and family. But this year I'm rethinking my holiday shopping list.
I recently traveled to the Central African Republic. Many people have never heard of CAR. I didn't know much about it either. It's a little smaller than Texas, with a population of about 5 million people. Just to put that in perspective -- more than 20 million people live in Texas.
CAR is landlocked in the center of the continent. The minister of health called his country "the heart of Africa" when I met him. I felt that in the people I spent time with.
I was in CAR to help distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets with the United Nations Foundation's Nothing But Nets campaign and the global health organization PSI. Malaria is the leading killer of children under the age of five in the Central African Republic and is responsible for about half of all hospital visits.
The United Nations identified an urgent need for mosquito nets in CAR, due to its vulnerability to flooding, location, proximity to conflict-ridden countries, like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the fact that malaria is an issue pretty much year round.
Our goal was to launch the second of three phases of a distribution campaign to cover the entire country, providing a net to every family to protect them from malaria. Even though a net sounds so simple, insecticide-treated nets can prevent malaria transmission by up to 90% if used consistently and correctly.
My experience was life-changing, and the many special moments and people from my trip are always on my mind. I can't forget one family in particular.
One of the most-heartbreaking moments I experienced was when I visited a small clinic outside of Bangui, the capital city. The clinic staff sees an average of 40 patients with malaria every day. One of the patients I met was a beautiful baby girl. Her father, Remi, held her tight in his arms. You could barely hear him as he talked. At this point he was overcome with desperation. He was so scared and his face showed signs of many sleepless nights, worrying about how he would make his daughter well again. Her tiny body was limp and she was hot to the touch with a high fever and chills. Her malaria was in the advanced stages and she needed treatment urgently, but her parents couldn't afford it. This was the second time they had come to the clinic. The first time they came was when they found out their daughter was sick. They came back after the pediatric hospital turned them away because they couldn't pay. Remi had purchased a set of cheap syringes on their way back to the clinic, hoping doctors there would give him some medicine, which he would try to administer himself.
After my time with them, I broke off from the group to find a quiet corner and try to make sense of what I just witnessed. The love of these parents for their daughter was profound, matched only by their fear. I couldn't decide if I was more angry or sad. The reality is that there are countless families who find themselves in Remi's nightmare. And something as simple as $10 for a net could prevent this illness.
As I left, I was told that Remi's daughter would receive treatment. I only hope it wasn't too late.
Ten dollars may not sound like much, but the cost is too high for most people at risk of getting malaria, many of whom live on less than $1 a day. That $10 goes to Nothing But Nets to purchase a net, deliver it to a family, and educate communities on its importance and use. I'm trying to help them get a net to every family in the country by the end of the year -- and you can help, too. We're already more than half-way there.
As I said, the holidays are right around the corner. Join me in taking a minute, going to www.NothingButNets.net and donating $10 to send a net to the Central African Republic. You will be saving a life.